The HBCU Experience
I love my H in front of my B, my B in front of my C, I love my HBCU!
Historically Black Colleges and Universities are the most underrated contributors in American history and society. Rising out of the ashes of Jim Crow's segregation, former slaves and Negroes born free were finally able to intellectually advance themselves in America. I graduated from the illustrious Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee; a small, private, liberal arts and science HBCU, built by missionaries who wanted people of colour to be given a chance for success in the south. We boast famous civil rights alumni such as Diane Nash and Niki Giovanni, to academic intellectuals such as W.E.B. Dubois, who brought the words kindergarten and gymnasium to the English vocabulary. He was also the first black graduate from Harvard University and had to redo his entire undergraduate degree there, for a place in their graduate level, because they deemed his HBCU education inferior. It was on our grounds that Dr. Martin Luther King addressed the community for peaceful protests and where the police protected us from the Ku Klux Klan, the day King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. We are also the home of the world renowned Jubilee Singers, who placed Nashville on the map as the "Music City" of America. This rich historical background is merely one reason why I love my HBCU and why you should know more about them too.
Rich Personal Identity The HBCU experience is like no other. Many Jamaicans have never heard about them, as we've grown to know the Ivy Leagues or the big Predominantly White Institutions, (PWI), such as Stanford University or UC Berkeley. As an afro Caribbean, HBCUs provide us with a different ethnic, racial and cultural insight that PWIs fail to provide. Instead of fighting to defend your identity, you are the majority and your common issues are known and catered to, so that you can be the best in a country that generally makes it harder for you. A Caribbean background is also advantageous in this environment as we not only enter with a strong sense of self, but can safely learn, understand and embrace ourselves and others in the American perspective of racial differences, within and without. It is certainly an eye-opening experience that leaves you stronger and prouder to be who you are while being a graduate of fine standings.
Scholarships We all know that the US school system is extremely expensive, especially for international students. The provision of scholarships is where every mikkle, really mek a mukkle. HBCUs are very generous for incoming students and this may be a major deciding factor for enrollment. Upon my last minute arrival to Fisk University, I was accepted as a conditional student, which impacted my scholarship availability. However, I was still offered scholarships and grants which covered 50% of my *private school* tuition, while my fellow Caribbean friends who were more prepared for college, entered with full ride scholarships and spare change.
Hidden Academic Opportunities As America finally comes around to respecting minorities, there has been an influx of targeted opportunities that will put you at an advantage. Major companies are recognizing the importance of outreach in our communities, and making a difference by specifically providing certain opportunities at HBCUs. Google for the past 6 years, has deployed software engineers to teach particular Computer Science classes at various HBCUs and has been directly preparing students for internship interviews. They have also funded and organized Hackathons for HBCUs to compete in, and as a “low-key tech nerd”, I thoroughly enjoyed competing in my Hackathons and witnessed many of my friends transition from interns to employees at these major tech companies. Other opportunities that my school in particular provide, includes joint programs and degrees with other universities in the city of Nashville. Fisk University has a Bridge Program where qualified STEM students have the chance to study for their masters at Vanderbilt University while in their Senior year of college, thus graduating with an undergraduate degree and a masters, one year later. We also have joint programs for Art students to study at Watkins College of Art and Design; direct feed-in programs for Pre-Med and Dentistry students at Meharry Medical College, another professional HBCU; as well as joint programs for Music/Business students with Belmont University.
Greek Life Black Greek Lettered organizations, like HBCUs, came about because of racial exclusivity. Needless to say, black greek life is the backbone of HBCUs. These organizations are about scholastic achievements, comradery and volunteerism. They also provide entertainment on campus with personas that cater to different individuals who can see themself in it. Membership is lifelong and people can become members of these organizations after undergrad. This opens up a massive network system, shared with members who entered beforehand. I personally did not join a sorority, but my connection with the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. motivated me to participate in activities that many organizations offer to non members. This included pageants, where I became the female face of that organization, bonded with current and alumni members, and carried out activities as an extension of the fraternity. This was one of the best experiences I had at my HBCU. Your campus life will never be short of social or academic engagements that Greek organizations contribute.
Homecoming Beyonce was not lying at Coachella. She almost accurately depicted what an HBCU homecoming is like. This time of the year is a highlight for all HBCUs. Alumni return to the campus; Greek step shows and major sporting events are going on; bands/drum lines and majorette dancers (a form of dance troupe distinct to HBCUs) are performing and the atmosphere is filled with merry feet and music. I have experienced 3 HBCU homecomings in my lifetime, Howard University, Tennessee State University(TSU) and Fisk University. They all vary by different degrees, especially since we are three different sizes; but I hands down give it to TSU for some of the hypest all round experience of homecoming. The entire week is built for fun, networking, cultural engagements and again, non stop excitement!
(Fun fact, Beyonce's dad is an alumni of Fisk University and Solange was about to be enrolled before she decided to do her music tours. Also, Oprah Winfrey went to TSU).
Family oriented No matter the size of the institution, an HBCU will always feel like a family because of our cultural connections and understanding. However there is a beauty in the small sizes of liberal arts schools. Fisk University is probably about the size of 5 american football fields together or less. The small student body allows for optimal academic development, as it is much easier to be engaged with your professors and there is less unnecessary competition, or sense of loneliness that's prominent in larger schools. The environment is more conducive to the cultivation of cultural, academic and socially rounded individuals, just because of its size. Additionally, the familial atmosphere would make any homesick person feel comfortable and accepted because no one is judging or mocking you and everyone knows every face or name, even if they are not friends. As for a security perk, smaller campuses enable students to be more aware of the environment, so we ALWAYS know if a stranger is around.
There are so many more features that come with the HBCU experience, but these are a few highlights from my small, liberal arts background. Whether it be a large school, or a smaller liberal arts setting, at the end of the day, HBCUs provide minorities the opportunity to safely embrace their heritage, advance themselves and find loopholes in the American way of life to succeed beyond our boundaries and beyond what the mass media depicts or expects of our people, in society.